The promise and pitfalls of Airbnb in country Australia

Airbnb is wooing country Australia with the lure of tourist dollars, but communities are being warned to be careful what they wish for amid the nation’s housing squeeze.

The homestay accommodation giant is offering a toolkit for councils that helps develop ‚Äúfair and sustainable‚ÄĚ rules for holiday rentals and provides data on visitor spending.

Airbnb launched the toolkit at the Australian Local Government Association’s national conference in Canberra on Tuesday, with figures showing its guests spent $12.4 billion in the year to March 2023.

Two-thirds of spending in NSW occurred outside Sydney, showing tourism income is largely injected into regional communities, an economic analysis for Airbnb showed.

The pitch comes as Australia’s regions grapple with a severe housing shortage, a burden often shouldered by councils.

Many country towns have grown since the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, prompting concern holiday rentals are limiting housing for key workers and influencing price hikes.

Economist Nicki Hutley told the conference it takes roughly the same amount of time to save for a home deposit in the country and the cities, while dissatisfaction with housing affordability is at record highs.

But regions can grow by playing to their own strengths across industries such as agriculture, mining, renewable energy and tourism, Ms Hutley said.

‚ÄúEverybody thinks tourism is going to be their saviour,‚ÄĚ she said.

“When that puts incredible pressure on your infrastructure, when it means locals can’t find places to live because everyone is going to Airbnbs … be careful what you wish for.

‚ÄúThe opportunities are absolutely there, but it has to be sustainable.‚ÄĚ

The NSW government is reviewing short-term rental accommodation policies as one way to improve housing supply and affordability.

There is a 180-day limit on properties to be used for non-hosted short-term stays in parts of Sydney, the Clarence Valley, Muswellbrook and Ballina in the NSW Northern Rivers.

A new cap of 60 days per year will be introduced in parts of the Byron Bay region from September.

But the state government’s discussion paper said there was limited evidence to suggest caps freed up properties for the long-term market.

Airbnb has proposed scrapping caps in favour of tourism levies to support local social and affordable housing projects.

A 7.5 per cent tax on homestay platforms comes into effect in Victoria next year, while Brisbane will require owners to have permits to operate Airbnbs.

As regional populations shift, the Australian Local Government Association has repeated calls for increased federal government funding.

‚ÄúThe number one issue facing all local governments is financial sustainability,‚ÄĚ president Linda Scott said.

A report into the nation’s council assets showed $23 billion worth of local roads are in poor condition.

Local councils are responsible for about three-quarters of the nation’s roads by length.

Water security is also a concern in rural areas, with 10 per cent of council infrastructure ‚Äď or $9.5 billion worth ‚Äď in poor condition.

 

Stephanie Gardiner
(Australian Associated Press)

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